Supply side blues 

Obama energy policy emulates Reagan's

Those who lived through the Reign of Error—the presidency of Ronald Reagan—won't have to strain to recall the foundational ideology of the time. It was called "supply-side economics" and, for once, a political label meant exactly what it said. The idea was simple and shortsighted: keep the economy growing by giving it everything it could possibly use in the way of supplies, whether that meant tax breaks for already rich corporations, radical slashing of pesky regulations or opening every acre of America's public lands to energy and natural resource extraction. Unfortunately, it appears President Obama's Wall Street advisers have raised supply side economics from the grave—and once again, Obama has taken their dubious advice.

This bad news comes just a week after Obama refused to permit immediately the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport raw bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists applauded that decision with more than a grain of skepticism, since the Obama administration has not been particularly effective at protecting the environment. The applause will likely die down now, after the Jan. 26 release of his "Blueprint for an America Built to Last," which, as the White House says, is "President Obama's Blueprint to Make The Most of America's Energy Resources."

While the "blueprint" contains a host of goals and ambiguous methods to attain them, the one that will likely affect Montana more than any other is what Obama says he wants to do in the energy sector and the part public lands will play.

The opening sentence of the White House Fact Sheet pretty much nails it: "In his State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out a Blueprint for an America Built to Last, underscoring his commitment to an all-of-the-above approach that develops every available source of American energy."

It's not difficult to recognize "all of the above" as the primary Republican response to the question "What energy resources should we develop in the U.S.?" The problem, as it was in Reagan's era and is now, is that a "me first, develop it all" philosophy leaves out one important factor—the future.

We are already experiencing serious, worldwide consequences from global climate change that have been tied to the production of greenhouse gases from human activity. That the U.S. bore the distinct and shameful record of producing the highest levels of greenhouse gases as well as the highest energy consumption rate per capita for most of the last century is a legacy we should be trying to change. But under Obama's "energy blueprint," that's not going to happen—just the opposite, in fact.

The "blueprint" has not one word about global climate change. Not one. It's like it doesn't exist. Nor does it contain one use of the word "conservation." That should give you an idea of the sins of omission in this flawed vision of the future. But if not, the specifics will ensure you get the point.

"Make a new lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico to move forward on our national commitment to safe and responsible oil and gas development."

Obama directed the Department of Interior to "finalize a national offshore energy plan that makes 75 percent of our potential offshore resources available for development by opening new areas for drilling in the Gulf and Alaska." Despite the BP disaster, which was the largest oil spill in American history, Obama will now open 38 million acres in the Gulf for new leases. And that says nothing about Alaska, where offshore leases increasingly threaten the world's greatest salmon-producing areas.

"Promote safe, responsible development of the near 100-year supply of natural gas, supporting more than 600,000 jobs while ensuring public health and safety."

Last week, Obama directed his administration to "ensure safe shale gas development that...will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade." But don't worry about the growing impacts from fracking, because Obama promises "commonsense new rules to require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking operations on public lands." Read it closely: There's no commitment to stopping the use of either fracking or the chemicals, merely disclosure, so that when your drinking water catches fire at the tap, you'll know it was from the benzene used in fracking.

"Doubling the share of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035."

While one might cheer at the mention of "clean energy sources," it's sobering to remember that the Obama administration considers nuclear energy and "clean coal" to be clean energy. We have no nuclear waste repository, and "clean coal" doesn't exist at industrial scale. And how can a president who may not get re-elected in November make promises about 2035?

"Opening public lands for private investments in clean energy."

This one is really tough to believe. Obama says his Department of the Interior will issue permits for "10 gigawatts of renewable generation capacity from new projects on our public lands by the end of 2012." What that means in reality is that energy companies will continue to trump both the public trust and environmental concerns on national lands in the coming year—only this time by executive fiat.

Montanans are already experiencing the socioeconomic impacts from the Bakken oil fields, and they're definitely not all great. Now we can look forward to the White House working hand in glove with the energy industry to bring us more of the same.

In a nation of energy hogs, the last thing we need to do is return to supply-side economics of the past. The short-term outcomes may benefit a small portion of the populace, but the long-term impacts promise once again to make the future pay so the present can play. America's shameful reputation for consumption and pollution continues, and under Obama, as under Reagan, there is neither change nor hope.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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